Early January 1995 I stepped off a plane in the south of Spain. After a year spent between Naval bootcamp, A-school and C-school, I was officially at my first duty station...Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Two. VQ-2, or just "The Q."
Three amazing years of my life were spent keeping these ancient aircraft up and flying. I could probably still find all of the grease ports in the wheel wells. We knew which bird would always come back leaking hydraulic fluid and which one had a tendency to catch on fire (we nicknamed that one Christine).
I could fill out new tire requisitions in my sleep and direct the pilot to park this baby right on the mark. As the smallest person in the Airframe shop I spent far too much of my time diving fuel cells. I still have a scar on my upper arm from a chemical burn from paint stripper splatter one late night repainting the props.
Our hanger welcomed various ship board squadrons. It was a nice change of pace to help out with fiberglass repair on a Huey. Or to come in at 2 am and paint our own insignia on another super secret aircraft.
The squadron was a family. We worked together. Lived together. Partied together. Got on each other's nerves during 12 hour rotating shifts. Deployments never went as planned. There was the one three month stretch when we had four of our six planes on deployment (we typically deployed with only two) and our small crew kept all four planes up flying during one of the many Operation Save the World missions we were proud to be a part of. Over the past several months I've heard stories shared by older generation "Q" members...tales of cold war spy missions when the aircraft flew without insignia and aircrew weren't allowed to wear squadron patches. Even during my time flight suit patches were attached by velcro for fast removal.
The relationships I made during my time with the "Q" remain strong. No matter how much time has passed, the bond remains.
Tomorrow the bell will be rung for the final time on the quarter deck of VQ-2. Times are changing. It's no longer worth the money to keep 40-year-old planes flying. The missions formally carried out by the Eries P-3 Orions will continued to be performed by various manned and unmanned craft.
Over our hanger bay doors was painted the statement, "Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty". No matter what or who her mission is replaced with, may we never forget those words.